Archive for March 2007

Paris in the Spring

March 30, 2007


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This week, I was asked to give a Table Topics speech.

This was the first one I’d done for a while, and as I didn’t have a role I was looking out for who would be “Table Topics Master” from the moment I arrived at the club. Well, this week it was Geoff – who’d evaluated my Icebreaker, last year. He was sitting in the row in front of me.

“I’m watching you, Mr. MacLeod,” he warned.

Right, thought I. That’s it – I’m bound to speak. And I started to consider what I’d say when he called me up.

Sure enough, I was the first one he called. The general topic was “Spring”, and he particularly asked me to talk about “Paris in the Spring”.

Wow – what do I know about that?

When you get a table topic, take your time going up to the front. Never say the first thing that comes to mind.

The first thing that came to my mind was my father. We had a disastrous holiday in Paris as a family in the eighties, and after that he always sang, “I love Paris in the Spring-time…. …but that’s because I’m never there!”.

Unfortunately, with no consideration of the Francophile audience, I said it. Doh!

Well, I seemed to get away with it – and some people laughed.

I wasn’t totally unprepared for the speech. Because I’d guessed it was likely I’d be speaking, I’d prepared myself while I’d been sitting waiting.

The speech I had in mind was based on a true story – about an English teacher who’d taught me. However, since the topic was “Paris in the Spring” I changed him into a French teacher.

The teacher had set me an assignment as homework. Of course, I’d left it to the last minute and, in the end, I had to tell him I hadn’t actually done it!

He was fuming.

So, when it came to doing the next assignment, I learned my lesson – I lied about it. You see, I told him I’d written an excellent assignment but then I’d been stopped on my way to the lesson. A pink elephant had floated down from the skies and he trampled all over my poor assignment.

“Sacre bleu,” said my (now) French teacher, who was delighted. He thought the story was wonderful. (Believe it or not, this got a laugh.)

And so, said I rounding up, it just goes to show you can get away with anything if you have a decent story. I was meant to be talking to you today about Paris, but I got away with talking about pink elephants.

Except, I didn’t. I knew it was a cop-out. The way to really give a table topic speech is to keep it on topic. My approach (trying to quickly adapt an existing story) made this hard. It was amusing, perhaps, but it wasn’t really the object of the game. Maybe I need a new approach?

I watched the other table topic speakers intently, and noticed a trend. A lot of the more experienced speakers (including Joyce, who won the evening’s “Best Table Topic” ribbon) use the topic to describe a scene.

I could’ve described all the things that come to mind when you think about Paris in the springtime – and let’s face it, there are plenty. There are the steps up to Sacre Coeur, the hussle and bussle of the  Champs Élysées, the view from the Eiffel Tower, the freshness of the air.

So, this is my resolve for my next attempt. Try to describe the scene. It might not get so many laughs, but it will be a fresh new speaking challenge.


Lorraine’s Humorous Look at the Decline of Marriage

March 30, 2007


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This month, we had a couple of meetings where I had no assigned role, but was lucky enough to get a chance to speak both times nonetheless.

On the 12th of March, I was asked at the last minute to evaluate Lorraine’s humorous speech. Lorraine is a very confident speaker who spoke at this year’s humorous speaking contest – so I knew I’d have my work cut out.

It’s much harder to evaluate a really good speaker. Firstly, you have the feeling you’re not really qualified to comment – after all, I’ve only been going to Toastmasters for just under a year.

And then, you have the problem of just understanding the project. The beginners’ speaking manuals have clear, step-by-step objectives. In the later manuals, the objectives get more sophisticated, and there tend to be more of them.

Finally, you have the difficulty of actually finding something constructive to say. When the speaker is too good, it’s awfully hard to find something they can improve on.

And so it was with Lorraine. Her speech had been prompted by a newspaper article she’d read, about the decline in the number of marriages.

It was a charming speech, with lots of clever puns and word-plays. It was extremely hard to find something to suggest to improve it. Perhaps, I thought, the punchline timing could’ve been stronger, once or twice, but that was splitting hairs. And then, I thought, it had been brave of her to make fun of men so often – after all, half the audience were male.

I had a close to my evaluation ready – I wanted to finish with a reference to a Britney Spear’s bikini (which had been one of Lorraine’s jokes). However, despite all attempts at a strong finish, I still made my usual “and that’s all I have to say” close. Why do I say that? I’m still working on it…

In the end, Lorraine got the “Best Speech” ribbon – and the “Best Humour” ribbon too. That just goes to show you how great her speech was. But I was proud as punch to get the “Best Evaluator” ribbon. Lorraine said we had a clean sweep!

On a separate note, we were treated to Sheila’s entertaining speech on the value of a smile. The point she made was how much you can affect the environment around you, with a simple smile. Whenever you greet someone you know, smile. When you meet a stranger, smile. The world around you will be brighter. Even babies just a few weeks old know this!

And that’s true. Sheila’s speech made me think about my little daughter, and her lovely smile. It made me smile all week.